Boston College Expert: Midterm Elections
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Moakley Professor of Political Science
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Prof. Kay Lehman Schlozman’s principal research focus is citizen participation in American politics. She also has expertise in broad areas of American political life; parties and elections, interest groups, voting and public opinion, political movements, money in politics, and the gender gap in citizen political activity. Along with numerous scholarly articles, Professor Schlozman is the co-author of five books including her most recent, The Unheavenly Chorus: Unequal Political Voice and the Broken Promise of American Democracy. She is also the editor of Elections in America and was the chair of the American Political Science Association's section on Elections, Public Opinion and Voting Behavior.
With Election Day just days away, recent events are likely to reinforce underlying structural factors to produce a good year for the Republican Party.
“For several reasons, it looks like there’s a Republican tailwind,” says Kay Schlozman, Moakley Professor of Political Science at Boston College whose expertise is citizen participation in American politics. “This was likely to be a very good year for Republicans under any circumstances. In the last couple of weeks, concerns about two seemingly uncontrollable threats from abroad -- ISIS and the Ebola virus -- have generated anxiety, anxiety that is undermining electoral support for the Obama administration.
“The president’s party usually loses seats in midterm elections, a pattern that is particularly pronounced in the sixth year of an eight-year administration,” says Schlozman, co-author of five books including, The Unheavenly Chorus: Unequal Political Voice and the Broken Promise of American Democracy. “And that’s a pattern that goes all the way back to the 1930’s. Even if party control of Congress does not change hands, in the sixth year, the president’s party usually gets shellacked. The only recent president to avoid sixth-year losses was Bill Clinton in 1998 when the Republicans were conducting impeachment hearings and when the economy was doing quite well.
“One way to think about what is going to happen in an election is to consider what happened when various kinds of public officials were elected,” continues Schlozman, editor ofElections in America and former chair of the American Political Science Association's section on Elections, Public Opinion and Voting Behavior. “The members of the House were elected in 2012 which was quite a good year for Democrats. However, the redistricting after the 2010 census had yielded a set of districts that put Democrats at a disadvantage. Many Democratic voters are clustered in urban districts that are quite Democratic. In contrast, Republicans are more spread out across the country which allows them to use their votes more efficiently. As a result, the 2012 elections produced a rare circumstance. In House voting across the country, Democrats won more votes than Republicans. But the way the districts are constructed means that those votes were distributed in such a way that Republicans retained their House majority with a minority of popular votes. Under the circumstances, Republicans are very likely to keep their House majority, but they are much less likely to benefit from a major sweep of the House of Representatives.
“Even without recent events that seem to be helping Republicans, we would have expected Republicans to pick up seats in the Senate in 2014. The senators who are up were elected in 2008, which was a very good year for Democrats. That means that many more Democrats than Republicans are up for re-election this year. Because 2008 was such a strong Democratic year, Democratic senators were elected in a number of states that are usually friendly to Republicans. As a result, this year a number of Democratic senators are defending seats in states -- for example, Alaska, Arkansas, and Louisiana -- that Romney won in 2012. By the way, this year’s pattern will be reversed in 2016 when senators elected in 2010 -- which was a very good year for Republicans -- are up for re-election.”
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